Occasionally readers ask me where I find the weird characters that populate my novels. I think they’re wondering if I’m a little nuts myself.
We can assume I have a few screws loose because I choose to write novels. That confessed, let’s move on to my characters.
Several years ago, my daughter, an environmental activist, invited me to breakfast with an activist friend of hers whose “forest” name is Roadkill. Roadkill wears the skins of animals he finds beside the road and tans himself. He was (and is still) truly a character, who teaches brain tanning and friction fire starting. My daughter, by the way, is known as Frog.
That delightful meal and introduction led to my first novel, Mustard’s Last Stand, set in North Idaho. I love that part of my former home state. The lakes are deep and the forests majestic and the populace is sprinkled with plenty of loons. The human kind.
In Mustard’s Last Stand, a failing screenwriter joins his oddball brother Roadkill to save safari animals on land once owned by the Mustard family. A serendipitous meeting with a unique individual inspired an entire novel.
The premise is admittedly absurd: No one would think of establishing a safari camp filled with African animals and retired zoo animals in chilly North Idaho. It made for a lot of fun, however, and believe it or not, some folks have asked me if zebras really live in Idaho. (They don’t.)
“Canned hunts” for elk, deer and many kinds of wild birds do exist in Idaho and other states, and in my book I try to point out, with a little humor, some of their drawbacks.
Roadkill played a smaller part in my second novel, Foul Wind, but he will be the protagonist in the third novel, that I’m setting in my new state of Arizona.
It’s not often that characters appear that ready for fiction in real life, but keeping our ears and eyes open can help. In Mustard’s Last Stand, a character gets in trouble in Sears. Big trouble, involving a pair of Vise-grips and a sore tooth and far too many uppers (and I’m not talking upper teeth). I once worked at Sears, selling vacuums and sewing machines. During a slow period another salesman told me about someone who came into a Sears store with a toothache and left with a lot more pain.
Most of the other characters I dream up are products of my imagination—I don’t name them after my family members and I don’t pattern them (at least not consciously) after family or friends. But sure enough, my daughter announced that she knew who she was in Mustard’s Last Stand. Really? I’m planning to use her as the model for a character in my third book and I have no doubt she will wonder why she was left out of that book.
HINT TO WRITERS: You can use the personality traits of that former boss or ex you want to kill off in a novel as long as you disguise them in another physical body: the opposite sex or a different ethnicity, for example. Most readers won’t recognize themselves because we all see ourselves differently than others perceive us.
Kathy’s irrepressible wit and writing helped her be chosen one of Idaho’s top three emerging fiction writers in 2014. Since then her wanderlust and a few pratfalls on ice landed her in a sunnier clime in Tucson.
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